Daniel A. Bell, "The Dean of Shandong: Confessions of a Minor Bureaucrat at a Chinese University" (Princeton UP, 2023)


I am not now nor at any time have ever been a member of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Yet I serve as dean of a large faculty of political science in a Chinese university that trains students and provincial cadres to serve the country as Communist Party officials: It’s typically a post reserved for members of the CCP, given the political sensitivity of the work. That’s part of the surprise. The other part is that I’m a Canadian citizen, born and bred in Montreal, without any Chinese ancestry.

– Daniel A. Bell, The Dean of Shandong: Confessions of a Minor Bureaucrat in China (2023)

On January 1, 2017, Daniel Bell was appointed dean of the School of Political Science and Public Administration at Shandong University―the first foreign dean of a political science faculty in mainland China’s history. In The Dean of Shandong, Bell chronicles his experiences as what he calls “a minor bureaucrat,” offering an inside account of the workings of Chinese academia and what they reveal about China’s political system. It wasn’t all smooth sailing―Bell wryly recounts sporadic bungles and misunderstandings―but Bell’s post as dean provides a unique vantage point on China today.

Bell, neither a Chinese citizen nor a member of the Chinese Communist Party, was appointed as dean because of his scholarly work on Confucianism―but soon found himself coping with a variety of issues having little to do with scholarship or Confucius. These include the importance of hair color and the prevalence of hair-dyeing among university administrators, both male and female; Shandong’s drinking culture, with endless toasts at every shared meal; and some unintended consequences of an intensely competitive academic meritocracy. As dean, he also confronts weightier matters: the role at the university of the Party secretary, the national anticorruption campaign and its effect on academia (Bell asks provocatively, “What’s wrong with corruption?”), and formal and informal modes of censorship. Considering both the revival of Confucianism in China over the last three decades and what he calls “the Communist comeback” since 2008, Bell predicts that China’s political future is likely to be determined by both Confucianism and Communism.

Professor Bell’s other writings mentioned in this episode include:

Communitarianism and its Critics (Oxford, 1993)

In this interview two book reviews were discussed: 1) "Confessions of a Sinophile" by James Crabtree in the Financial Times, and 2) "Confessions of a China Apologist" by Gordon G. Chang in The New Criterion. Professor Bell graciously responded to a question about them and adds this post-interview thought for The New Criterion reviewer: ‘since my book is banned in China I wish Mr. Chang would inform the relevant authorities that I'm an apologist for China – it might help to unban the book!’

Professor Daniel A. Bell is a Canadian political theorist and currently Chair of Political Theory at the University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law. He was previously Dean of the School of Political Science and Public Administration at Shandong University and professor at Tsinghua University (Schwarzman College and Department of Philosophy). He has authored eight books and edited and/or coedited as many while serving as a series editor for Princeton University Press.

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